Whenever someone finds out we’re pregnant, the conversation almost always goes like this:
Friend/Cashier/Random Person I just met: “You’re pregnant? That’s awesome!”
“Boy or girl?”
“We’re not finding out. We thought it would be more fun that way.”
“Oh, man! I could never do that! When I was pregnant, I found out as soon as possible.”
I am not upset by this exchange. It’s so predictable now, that I find it amusing how consistent the general population is (except for a handful of people who, when told we’re not finding out the sex, simply respond: “Good for you!”).
What I don’t tell people is that we’re not even having an ultrasound. I can just imagine the looks and comments we’d get from that bomb of information. And, we’re not pregnant crusaders, trying to Joan-of-Arc our way into making a statement about how we “think pregnancy should be done.” Nope. We just want to have a joyful pregnancy; and, when we talked about ultrasounds, we decided it would be in our best interests as well as the baby’s to forgo them altogether.
ARE ULTRASOUNDS SAFE?
Ultrasounds have been around for a few generations, so we can pretty much guess that they don’t harm babies if used responsibly. It’s not ethical to do controlled tests on pregnant ladies to determine how intense an ultrasound can get before causing potential discomfort or harm to a baby, so we can’t say for certain that ultrasounds have no affect on fetal development, but it is unlikely. If you keep your ultrasound(s) short and request less intense scans, your baby will be just fine.
However, there are new 4D video ultrasounds available, and I cringe at the idea of these. The 4D video ultrasound lasts for well over half an hour, it uses much more intense scans on the uterus. These ultrasounds are untested, and we do not know if they have any long-term effects on fetal development.
WHY GET AN ULTRASOUND? (AND WHY WE DIDN’T)
The best reason to get an ultrasound is to pin down the date of conception and determine an accurate due date. Mr. Wetzel and I knew exactly when our baby was conceived, however, so this was not a good enough reason for us. To pin down the conception/due dates, this ultrasound is done early, typically around week 8, before the baby has had time to develop very far.
It seems that the main reason people get ultrasounds is to determine whether they are having a boy or girl. This ultrasound is done around week 20. In our case, we don’t care if we’re having a boy or girl, and we don’t want to find out until birth, so this was a moot point for us as well. WHY DON’T WE WANT TO KNOW THE GENDER? We don’t have our hopes set on a boy or girl, so in large part we don’t care. Practically speaking, we don’t want gender-specific baby gear. Not knowing the gender will allow us to prepare for our little one in blissful, orange/green/yellow ignorance.
For me, a bigger reason for not having an ultrasound wasn’t about the gender, but about the means by which we chose to emotionally connect with our little one. Many people look forward to taking home an ultrasound picture of their baby-to-be (I suppose this is why “keepsake dvds” of the 4D ultrasounds are such an enticement to some parents as well). It’s easy to be incredulous in the beginning that there is actually a baby in the womb and that this transition of life is actually happening. Many people take home their ultrasound picture, the first picture of their baby, and it helps them to foster an emotional bond between parent and baby. I don’t think this is a bad thing, and I think it’s cute to see other parents-to-be goofing around with their ultrasound pictures (like my friend, Danica, who is pictured here)…it just wasn’t the way Mr. Wetzel and I wanted to approach our bonding.
It is so easy in our culture to freak out about changes or about things that are out of our control, and then to grasp onto something tangible or material to make us feel better or more connected. We chose not to bond over a black-and-white scan of our growing baby because it wasn’t deep enough to hold meaning for us. We didn’t want to settle for an ultrasound TV monitor and a little token of the baby’s visual representation. We’re holding out for something better. We want to get to know our little one through our connection to the baby, instead of using technology to bridge the gap between our ignorance and the baby’s reality. We wanted to forgo the “experts” and go down the path of intuition and faith.
I know. I sound like a nutter. But I’m not being judgmental, just open and honest.
In some ways, forgoing the ultrasound is a symbol of our approach to the birth as a whole: we don’t believe pregnancy is a medical or surgical condition. It’s not something for which we need to “seek treatment.” It is a part of the human experience, and it has been for millennia. We do not want a clinical environment that responds primarily out of functionality or fear. We seek supporters that will help us find our way down this path towards parenthood, and we chose care providers who will foster an environment of joy and excitement about the arrival of our little one.
WHAT IF THERE’S SOMETHING WRONG WITH THE BABY?
There is another main reason to get an ultrasound: to do tests. Many of these tests screen for abnormalities so that parents can decide if they want to abort their fetus before it starts to feel like a “real baby.” Abortion was never on the table for us, so another moot point.
There are other tests that can be done, and we went over them with our midwife, asking her what the risks would be if we did not get an ultrasound. For each test discussed, we were told that the ultrasound would let us know about a condition that we could not change and that the midwife or other care providers could do nothing about. We believe it’s easier to not worry about things we cannot change if we never find out about them in the first place, so we opted out of these tests as well.
When I tell this to others, the typical response is, “If there was a test I could run, I’d want to just do it. I’d rather have more knowledge.” In conversations, I remain respectful and don’t get into an argument (my goal in talking about pregnancy is never to get into a debate, stressed out or worked up). But, this is my true response to these beliefs:
There is more than one kind of knowledge. Facts and test results provide information, but is this truly knowledge? In the words of T. S. Elliot (from the opening stanza to Choruses from the Rock):
“Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”
If we run a test on the baby and find out there is something wrong that we can’t do anything about, what have we gained? More reason for fear. More reason to feel incompetent. If we run a test on the baby and find out there might be something wrong, but that we have to run further tests to confirm it, and in the end there is likely nothing we can do about it, then what have we gained? Discomfort. Stress. And more worry. More information does not lead to knowledge, and more knowledge does not lead to wisdom. Not alone. You also need faith, hope and love. Your spirit needs to grow along with your mind. And no young couple was ever made ready to be parents just because they had more facts about their baby. During 9 months of gestation the couple also undergoes a transformation of the heart and mind, a lot of which happens as a result of questioning, self-examination and soul searching. Then, on that fateful day when a baby comes into the world, it doesn’t need stuff or facts or a gender specific nursery. What it needs is love, connection and relationship.
Isn’t that what we all need?
What are your thoughts and feelings about ultrasounds and other in utero tests?
*For further reading, I recommend the chapters on ultrasounds and other tests in Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Sarah J. Buckley, MD.